4 Mar (NucNet): The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission should carry out a rigorous NRC-run inspection programme to validate post-Fukushima strategies at every nuclear power station in the US, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said in a report published yesterday.
Such a validation programme should be modelled on the “stress tests” that were carried out for nuclear plants in Europe and Japan after the March 2011 accident and the performance-based inspections that the NRC employs for assessing security at nuclear plants, the report said.
The NRC should choose a set of “challenging severe accident scenarios” and evaluate each station’s ability to respond to the accident from beginning to end.
The NRC has made “insufficient progress in improving US nuclear power safety in light of lessons learned” from the accident, the report said. It said that “all too often the agency abdicated its responsibility as the nation’s nuclear watchdog by allowing the industry to rely on voluntary guidelines, which are, by their very nature, unenforceable”.
The UCS said that following the accident, a task force of senior staff at the NRC issued a 96-page report, detailing their recommendations for protecting the US public from a Fukushima-scale disaster. Five years later, the NRC has either rejected or weakened nearly all of its own staff’s recommendations, the UCS said.
Of the changes that have been made – including implementation of the so-called “Flex” response strategy – it remains unclear whether the money and time invested will yield significant safety improvements.
The UCS said: “The Fukushima nuclear disaster wasn’t caused by just an earthquake and a tidal wave – it was also the result of a complacent nuclear power industry and an ineffective regulator.
“The US response to those eye-opening events has, to some degree, highlighted the very same fundamental problems: industry hasn’t taken nuclear safety as seriously as it should, and the NRC has failed to strengthen its regulatory framework.”
The Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute said earlier this week that the US nuclear industry will fully implement virtually all of its high priority post-Fukushima safety enhancements by the end of 2016, with the last improvements in place by 2019.
Chief among the enhancements is the “diverse and flexible” Flex response strategy, which addresses the major problem encountered at Fukushima-Daiichi – the loss of water and power to maintain effective reactor cooling – by stationing additional layers of backup safety equipment in well-protected locations at all plant sites.
The equipment ranges from diesel-driven pumps and electric generators to ventilation fans, battery packs, hoses, cables and satellite communication gear, the NEI said.
The NEI said the industry also established two national emergency response centres in Memphis and Phoenix, capable of delivering additional backup safety equipment to multiple reactor sites “anywhere in the US within 24 hours”.
The industry has invested more than $4bn (€3.6bn) and devoted thousands of man-hours to putting in place new responses to extreme events, NEI chief operating officer Maria Korsnick said.
The UCS report is online: http://bit.ly/24FoFLE